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February 14, 2022 4:21 pm
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Watchdog: Head of UN Probe Must Resign Over ‘Demonstrable Bias Against Israel’

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

The United Nations logo is seen at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

A watchdog group on Monday called for the chair of the United Nations commission of inquiry into the May conflict between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas to resign over her apparent prejudice against the Jewish state.

UN Watch submitted a 30-page complaint letter to Navi Pillay, a former South African judge and UN human rights chief who is heading a probe into alleged human rights abuses committed during hostilities last spring. It accused Pillay of violating UN rules of impartiality by failing to disclose numerous of prior statements that “evince demonstrable bias against Israel, including on issues specifically related to the case and controversy that is the object of this inquiry.”

The complaint, which was also sent to the president of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), argued that Pillay “cannot impartially investigate Israel for alleged war crimes, human rights abuse and racism, when she has a long record of one-sided statements that single out Israel for condemnation over” these same issues.

The commission of inquiry helmed by Pillay was established through a 2021 UNHRC resolution brought forward by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. It has already drawn controversy for being uniquely open-ended, while the UNHRC has been criticized for approving more condemnatory resolutions on Israel than on Iran, Syria, and North Korea, combined.

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Israeli officials have raised concerns that the commission’s first report, due this summer, will accuse Israel of practicing “apartheid” — a charge that has been increasingly used to frame the existence of a Jewish nation-state as inherently racist.

In the petition, UN Watch listed examples of public statements where Pillay labeled Israel as an apartheid state. As recently as June, Pillay signed an open letter calling on President Joe Biden “to help bring an end to Israel’s institutionalized domination and oppression of the Palestinian people.”

Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch and an international human rights lawyer, pointed out that “many of the utterances in question occurred mere weeks before she was appointed by the UN this summer, leaving little room to imagine how Pillay could envisage the issues any differently so soon afterwards.”

“It is astonishing that the UN appointed an individual as the supposedly impartial chair of an inquiry immediately after she declared one of the parties guilty in the very controversies that are at issue in the investigation,” he added.

In 2020, Pillay signed a petition to “Sanction Apartheid Israel!” organized by an anti-Zionist South African activist group. In a 2017 interview, after addressing an event in Pretoria to mark the “International Day of Solidarity with Palestine,” Pillay said: “Apartheid has now been declared a crime against humanity in the Rome Statute — and it means the enforced segregation of people on racial lines — and that is happening in Israel.”

UN Watch argued that such examples violate guidelines requiring members of commissions of inquiry to have “a proven record of independence and impartiality.”

“By heading this inquiry despite having repeatedly declared Israel guilty of precisely the crimes that she is supposed to investigate, Pillay today embodies the injustice of the UN and its human rights council when it comes to the selective treatment of the Jewish state,” Neuer said.

“Accordingly, today we are calling on Pillay to recuse herself. In the event that she refuses to do so, we request Federico Villegas, the President of the Human Rights Council, to remove her,” he continued.

UN Watch also requested an opinion from the UN’s legal counsel, and asked that Pillay’s application to become a member of the inquiry be made public.

The watchdog group has frequently criticized the UN for its disproportionate focus on Israel, demonstrated in part by the bevy of resolutions and special mechanisms targeting the Jewish state. The previous UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, acknowledged in 2016 that “decades of political maneuvering have created a disproportionate number of resolutions, reports, and committees against Israel.”

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